Ioan Grillo, author of Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels
I’m a journalist and writer based in Mexico City, working for outlets including the New York Times, France 24 and National Geographic. I’ve been covering Latin America since 2001 for news media such as Time Magazine, Esquire, CNN, Reuters, Al Jazeera, The Houston Chronicle, The Associated Press, GlobalPost, France 24, The Sunday Telegraph, Letras Libres and many others. I am author of the books Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels (2021), Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America (2016), and El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (2011).
I started covering drug cartels from my early days here. I was fascinated by the riddle of these ghost like figures who made $30 billion a year, were idolized in popular songs and miraculously escaped the Mexican army and DEA. Over two decades, I followed the mystery to endless murder scenes on bullet-ridden streets, mountains where drugs are born as pretty flowers, and scarred criminals from prison cells to luxury condos.
During that time, Mexico’s drug war morphed into a horrific conflict with brutal beheadings, massacres and mass graves. Journalists here found ourselves reporting on a human tragedy of epic proportions – with a never-ending trail of grieving parents and atrocities comparable to brutal civil wars. The need for better understanding to help find a way out of this hole has become more important than ever.
We foreign journalists all have to turn to our homelands for part of that solution. I grew up in sunny England, near the seaside city of Brighton – famous for its pink candy, pebble beaches, colleges and bubbling night clubs. It is also one of Britain’s top places for drug consumption, switching with the fashions from Moroccan hashish to Turkish heroin to Colombian cocaine. Few there ever think about where the mind-bending substances come from or what they might give or takeaway from those countries. In Europe and the United States a hard discussion on our drug habits and policy is long overdue.
The tentacles of drugs and crime and gangs reach to many other corners of the world. I followed them back from the frontlines of Latin America, to cocaine traffickers in Ireland, riots on London estates, heroin dealers on Baltimore corners.
As well as following drug trafficking empires, I have covered the other major issues of Latin America such as the battle between left and right (including the meltdown of Venezuela and Honduras), natural disasters (from the Haiti earthquake to the annual hurricanes), and the vast human wave of emigration to El Norte. I have been a consultant on a bundle of projects, including for the International Crisis Group. And I have worked on a bunch of TV programs and series, including Barrios Beats and Blood, Inside Narco Wars, and Blood On The Wall.
I couldn’t do any of this without readers, listeners and viewers, and the messages you send make it all worthwhile and give me the inspiration to keep on doing it.